WASHINGTON: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s loss of his parliamentary majority is unlikely to end disagreements between Washington and Ankara, particularly over the conflict in Turkey’s southern neighbor Syria, U.S. officials said on Monday.
Erdogan’s AK Party lost the majority it has enjoyed for more than a dozen years, ushering a period of uncertainty as parties jockey to form a coalition government.
Whatever the outcome, officials and analysts said that the main lines of Turkish foreign policy are unlikely to shift dramatically. The AK Party is still by far the biggest party and Erdogan maintains enormous influence.
Ankara and Washington have disagreed sharply on Syria, where Erdogan has argued for buffer zones inside the country to halt the flow of refugees fleeing the civil war into Turkey and for robust U.S. action to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The Obama administration has rejected U.S. military action against Assad and has pressed Erdogan to do far more to stop foreign fighters from crossing Turkish territory into Syria, where they can join IS and potentially threaten the West.
The NATO allies also differ on Egypt, where Turkey backed an Islamist leader toppled in 2013 by the army, and on Israel, with which Turkey has had tense ties since nine Turks died when Israeli soldiers stormed a Gaza-bound aid ship in 2010.
ENDURING ERDOGAN INFLUENCE?
While nominally a member of the coalition against the Islamic State militant group, Turkey has refused to let U.S. forces use its bases to bomb the group’s forces which occupy large parts of Iraq and Syria.
One U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said some in Washington might be inclined to celebrate the AK Party’s defeat and conclude “Erdogan is dead, but that’s not the case.”
Henri Barkey, a former official at the White House National Security Council, said a coalition that included the AK Party would continue current policies.
“If there is a coalition government that is hostile to Erdogan, there is going to be a clash … because he is likely to continue what he wants to do,” he said, citing Erdogan’s history of charting security policy with intelligence agencies.
A second U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, echoed the view that Turkish policy was not likely to change but said a smaller party in coalition with the AK Party could exert some influence on its direction.
“If he (Erdogan) goes into a coalition, some of those folks may have demands, including that he be more or less aggressive with Israel, that he be more or less activist against ISIL and vis-a-vis Assad in Syria,” said the senior Obama administration official. “That’s why it’s complicated.”